David Halperin, Peter Joseph
May 22, 2011 - 12:00am

The criticism of President Obama’s speech this week, in particular the reaction to the statement that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” underscores the lamentable, polarized discourse in our nation – and in the Jewish community – when it comes to Israel and the pursuit of a lasting two-state solution.

A majority of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians have long supported the concept of a two-state solution. The contours of the agreement have more or less been known for years, outlined in the Clinton Parameters announced by President Clinton at IPF’s Gala in January 2001, in the Geneva Accords, the Ayalon/Nusseibeh plan, and even the progress indicated by the leaks of the Olmert-Abbas talks. Each concludes that a border agreement will be based on Israel’s incorporation of major settlement blocs close to - but beyond - the 1967 Green Line in return for a mutually agreed land swap. Every president since Lyndon Johnson – Republican and Democrat alike – has opposed Israeli settlement construction in the territories captured by Israel in 1967 exactly because it made a land-for-peace agreement all the more difficult to achieve. And every president for decades has enjoyed bi-partisan consensus for the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and support for its pursuit of lasting peace.

To be sure, semantics are critical in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. President Obama’s articulation of the date “1967” in his speech was significant. But the dishonest – and dangerous – politicization and demagoguery on display over the last 24 hours in response to this speech, and the dishonest suggestions that Obama has placed Israel’s security in jeopardy by imposing on Israel a full return to the ‘67 border, has been shameful.

In the moments during and just after the speech, many conservative pundits actually applauded President Obama for such comments as his strong opposition to the Palestinians’ attempt to gain recognition at the United Nations General Assembly, his statement that the “Palestinians have walked away from talks,” and his challenge to the Palestinians after the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement to provide a “credible answer” to the question, “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?”

For example, on Twitter, Noah Pollak, the Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, and a fierce critic of the President, wrote “I don't think there's anything in this speech that Netanyahu will find surprising or even disagreeable,” and later that “If someone had said to me yesterday, "you'll be defending Obama on Israel tomorrow" I would have laughed.” John Podhoretz of the conservative Commentary Magazine, joked on twitter that the speech sounded as if Obama was saying, “Let me be clear: I don't want to go into 2012 in a broigus with Israel.” Danielle Pletka of the conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) wrote on her blog that the speech was “not bad” and another AEI blog post reported that “On balance, the speech was quite fair to Israel, especially when one compares it to the 2009 Cairo speech.”

However, the partisan anti-speech chorus grew when presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich all disparaged Obama for his remarks, with Romney stating “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.” Representative Allen West (R-FL) wrote that the speech “could be the beginning of the end as we know it of the Jewish state.” So much for bi-partisanship…

So, why the turnaround? Prime Minister Netanyahu’s terse statement in response to the speech – issued before the speech even concluded – signaled a looming United States-Israel clash, particularly in advance of his upcoming address to a joint session of Congress. To be sure, the President’s speech was criticized by the fringes on both sides of the political spectrum. But conservatives in particular quickly recognized the political opportunity of Netanyahu’s reaction to exploit an issue with which the President has struggled, seemingly in hopes of capturing the Jewish community’s attention (and its support).

Thankfully, most of the American Jewish community is not buying it. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee in particular should be commended for their responsible, principled statements. But the heated politicization of the past 24 hours has also established a new nadir in the Jewish community’s discourse on Israel.

As Israeli military officials themselves have attested, Israel’s security is not jeopardized by “mutually agreed” land swaps based on the 1967 border. It is not threatened by a President who consistently reaffirms his “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security, or to enhancing U.S.-Israel security cooperation to historic levels. However, Israel is indeed threatened by the polarization found in Washington and in the Jewish community today, which undermines the strong bi-partisan consensus support for Israel, and its quest for peace, which has held fast for decades.
President Obama clearly intends to keep his word. He said he would track down Osama bin Laden—and he did. He has said his commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering—and it is. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, he called on the parties to “to act on what everyone knows to be true.” Everyone knows the general contours of a peace agreement—and so the President said it (and even then, only on borders and security).

Without a two-state solution, Israel will become more isolated and less secure. Its future as a Jewish democracy will be placed in jeopardy. But if articulating the mere date “1967” causes such a politicized backlash – in the U.S., in the Jewish community, and in the region – the President may yet be driven to stand down from the pursuit of a two-state solution—and that, we’re afraid, is exactly what the President’s detractors have in mind


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017